Around 15 million babies born prematurely every year – and the number is continuing to rise, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Over the years, a number of studies have highlighted links between poor oral health and a higher risk of preterm birth.
Dental health is crucial always – but it is particularly important to stay on top it during pregnancy.
With the mouth acting as a gateway to the body, a healthy mouth is key to fighting off other infections.
How could chewing gum help?
A new study – the largest of its kind – was carried out over a 10 year period and featured more than 10,000 women. It focused on the country of Malawi, which has the highest number of preterm births in the world.
Participants got involved voluntarily either before they became pregnant or within 20 weeks of being pregnant.
All of the eight health centres involved offered oral health care and preterm birth prevention. However half of the centres were randomised to give xylitol chewing gum to research participants.
Results showed a 'significant reduction' in preterm birth among participants who chewed the gum compared to those who did not (12.6% versus 16.5%).
There were also fewer low birth rate babies (8.9% versus 12.9%). Other results revealed the participants also experienced an improvement in their oral health.
'Using xylitol chewing gum as an intervention prior to 20 weeks of pregnancy reduced preterm births, and specifically late preterm births between 34 to 37 weeks,' said Kjersti Aagaard, a professor in maternal-fetal medicine and vice chair of obstetrics & gynaecology at Texas Children's and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.